Il Windrush scandal, in which thousands of immigrants who came to the UK lawfully from Commonwealth countries after the second world war were later detained and in some cases deported, was powerfully dramatised in the Bafta-winning BBC drama Sitting in Limbo (2020). The screenwriter and novelist Stephen Thompson, chi è morto di cancro invecchiato 56, based the script on the experiences of his older brother, Anthony Bryan.
Nel 2015, the Home Office began its efforts to deport Bryan to Jamaica, a country he had not visited since coming to live in the UK with his mother in 1965, at the age of eight. The action was taken against him as part of the Conservative government’s “hostile environment” policy, which was ostensibly set up to reduce illegal immigration, only to become indiscriminate and vindictive in its sweep.
Bryan, a builder, lost his job and his right to work, as well as all entitlement to benefits and the NHS. He was then detained in immigration removal centres after there was found to be no official record of him as a British citizen. He was on the verge of being deported when an injunction was secured preventing his removal.
Thompson and Bryan initially assumed this to be a one-off case. The reporting of Amelia Gentleman, Oms interviewed Bryan and other members of the Windrush generation for this newspaper, revealed it to be part of a concerted policy by the government to meet deportation targets by harvesting “low-hanging fruit” – a phrase used by immigration officers and repeated in Sitting in Limbo. Bryan was reduced to “having to beg to stay in my own country”.
It did not occur to Thompson to write about his brother’s trauma until the furore seemed in danger of dying down. “We wanted to kind of hold [the government’s] feet to the fire," Egli ha detto.
Thompson’s debut novel, Toy Soldiers (2000), described by this paper as “assured, speedy and tersely convincing”, was based on his own turbulent experiences of growing up in east London.
The son of Wilton and Lucille, he was born Steadman Thompson in Hackney, and educated at Hackney Downs school, where his behaviour sometimes gave cause for concern. A 13, he was suspended for two months after he and another pupil violently attacked a teacher who had challenged them for smoking marijuana in class. “We only came to our senses when we noticed the claret dripping from his smashed nose," Thompson wrote in an article about his book in 2000.
Leaving school without qualifications, he drifted into dealing and using drugs. It was only after a suicide attempt in his 20s that he entered rehab. While there, he encountered VS Naipaul’s novel A House for Mr Biswas. “Long before I finished reading it, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," Egli ha detto. “My desire to write was so strong it felt like a sickness.”
His only previous writing experience was composing letters to relatives in Giamaica on behalf of his mother, who was semi-literate. She would ask him to read the correspondence back to her before sending so that she “could judge whether or not her thick patois had been adequately translated into standard English. Sometimes she found the letters to be too polished, the language a little too ‘speaky-spokey’, and she would ask me to tone them down a bit.” He described this as his earliest lesson in writing and redrafting. “Unwittingly, Mum was preparing me for my future career.”
While still in rehab, he began putting down on paper the experiences of his youth and young adulthood. Al di sopra di 10 years and many drafts, these initial scribblings evolved into Toy Soldiers, about a crack addict trying to leave behind his life of crime.
Immediately after leaving rehab in the late 1980s, Thompson was taught by the novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi on a 12-week creative writing course at the Riverside Studios, in west London. Kureishi was an early champion of Thompson’s work, encouraging him to send it to his own editor at Faber & Faber. He also taught him at the Royal Court Young People’s theatre in the early 90s, where one of his classmates was Joe Penhall, later the author of plays including Blue/Orange and Mood Music.
“Steve was one of the most talented guys in the group,” said Penhall. “He could obviously write. We used to have to read our things aloud, and he could perform, pure, so I’d get him to read my stuff out. We were on the same wavelength, reading and writing about the same subjects – outsiders, the effect of colonialism on Londra, Inghilterra, the world. He had a real clarity of vision. He could see through all the bullshit, which was quite unusual at that age.”
Three further novels followed: Missing Joe (2001), Meet Me Under the Westway (2007), which had a theatrical setting drawn from his Royal Court days, and No More Heroes (2015), a thriller that begins with the 7/7 attacco terroristico. Several television series based on his books are currently in development.
He had initially considered writing Sitting in Limbo as a novel, but was persuaded by his agent to use it as the subject of his first television drama. Thompson, who by now had added an S initial to his name, toned down some of the more shocking details in his partially fictionalised account.
Ad esempio, Bryan and his partner, Janet, had been under surveillance for weeks before police and immigration officials called at their house in the early hours of the morning armed with a battering ram, whereas on screen the scene, though still distressing, occurs with a handful of officers arriving at a more civilised hour.
Other facts were tweaked for mischievous reasons. “Stephen took the mick by writing me as a Spurs supporter like him, when he knew full well I’m Liverpool,” said Bryan.
Thompson was also editor of the online literary journal The Colverstone Review, and taught creative writing at Winchester University and the University of Edinburgh, as well as screenwriting at the Central Film School, Londra.
He is survived by his partner, Kass Boucher, and three siblings, Anthony, Viola and Kenneth.